27 January 2014
by Jan Grape
by Jan Grape
Some people think the life of a writer is all glitz and glamour. It is. For perhaps 1% of writers. I remember speaking to a middle school class several years ago and they all wanted to know if I lived in a big mansion. I had to tell the truth and say "no." I have a nice house probably just like yours.
Today, I thought I might tell you how my day went before I started this blog. It's a lot like many of my days. I got up between 10:30 and 11. I know that's late for most people but it works best for me. I spent many, many years when I HAD to be at work by 7:00am or 8:00 am. I swore that if I ever had the chance I'd sleep until I woke up and then get up. I've been doing that a few years. For years after my husband and I retired and began traveling in our RV we often got up at 6 or 7 in the morning to get on the road early and get to our next location shortly after noon. After he passed away, I had several health problems and it was just nice to be lazy and sleep until I felt like getting up.
I knew I needed to write an article for SleuthSayers so I told my brain to start working on a subject. First it was time to prime the pump so I checked my email and FB to see if I'd missed anything important. Nothing too earth shattering.
Next I turned on the TV and listened to Melissa for a time then realized I'd recorded the Pro-Bowling Tournament of Champions. I tuned the bowling in and that took up a good hour and a half. I was rooting for Wes Malott from near Austin, Texas as he battled it out with Jason Belmonte. Jason is from Australia and bowls two-handed and is the new Player of the Year. Now Jason is the winner of the TOC. But he's a good guy so didn't mind my guy losing. Sure Wes didn't feel that way.
My first thought was to write a few book reviews on several books I've read recently. First is The Original Crime by Joseph Pittman. I've know Joe since he was an editor years ago. A beautiful woman is found dead after a horrific storm in a small town in upstate New York. The woman is naked except for a pink scarf around her neck. Eckert's Landing police chief turned ghostly white as he looked closer to the body which had RIP scratched into her forehead. The book is a mixture of mystery with the touch of a thriller, maybe a nod to horror. A page-turner for sure.
Suddenly, I had a strong desire to wash my hair. Okay, it was bugging me, it's gotten too long and sometimes a couple of strands fall into my eyes and bug me. Once clean it stays back in place much easier. While the hair was drying I played a couple of hands of FreeCell. If you don't know, it's a computer solitaire game.
I reread what I'd written earlier, about the books I'd been reading. Sounds like this might work. Next up was Bone Pit by Bette Golden Lamb and J.J. Lamb. Speaking of page-turners, this book is definitely one. A pair of nurses, Gina Mazzio and Harry Lucke accept an assignment to work at an Alzheimer's rehab hospital outside of Virginia City, Nevada. What happens there as Gina and Harry begin to discover strange shenanigans makes me hope I never have that disease nor have to go to a place like this. I really enjoy medical mysteries as I was a diagnostic radiological and radiation therapy technologist for thirty years and feel right at home in this setting. Bette and J.J. have created authentic characters, a thoroughly scary mystery and I hope the Gina Mazzio and Harry Lucke series continue for a long time.
Time to turn on the Grammy Awards and I didn't take long to decide most of this music is not in my wheelhouse. I changed over to the Pro-Bowl Football game. I do love football and am sorry the season is over, except for the Big Game next Sunday. But we do have the Olympics to look forward to after that. However, I am worried about safety for everyone. What's stupid, the Olympics are supposed to be worry free and to NOT bring terror or politics into the arena.
I didn't feel like cooking so nuked a frozen dinner. Must admit frozen food is a whole lot better than years ago when you had rubber chicken and powdered mashed potatoes.
Back to the books. I also just recently finished reading my writing partner, Fran Rizer's latest Callie Parrish book, The Corpse in the Cupboard. If you want a good lesson in characterization then I'd advise you to read Fran. Funny, unique, realistic people that just walk off the pages of the book and into your heart. These honestly are people I'd recognize anywhere and be glad to sit down and visit with them. She captures the South Carolina setting so well that I feel that I've actually been there before. A touch of mystery and a touch of romance makes this a winner for sure.
Now for a change of pace I'm reading a Dennis Lehane book, titled Live By Night. You are always surprised by Lehane, check out, Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River and Shutter Island. This one is set in 1926 Boston prohibition era with speakeasies, corrupt cops and bad guys all around. I'm about halfway through this one and no telling how it will play out.
This was mainly my day, trying to come up with something to write about. Most of my writing days are full of glamour and glitz like this.
28 June 2013
by Dixon Hill
And, evidently, when “Mother Hubbard” is a guy from India, those corpses can really start to pile up!
A book review by Dixon Hill
I read, once, that in the best mysteries the murdered body is usually discovered by page seven. Fran Rizer beats that count in Mother Hubbard has a Corpse in the Cupboard, when the first body is discovered on page three. The cupboard, where said corpse resides, is a pantry/storage room formed by canvas walls separating the kitchen space from the dining area in a county fair food-tent known as Mother Hubbard’s Beer Garden.
Calamine Lotion “Callie” Parrish (the series protagonist) has convinced her two friends – Jane and Rizzie — to join her for a ‘Ladies Day Out’ at the Jade County Fair, and naturally, the trio stops for a fair-food repast. But, a good time is not to be had by all, when Callie gets a troubling call on The Bat-Phone (er…I mean: on her bra-phone – I won’t explain more, except to say that James Brown has never made me laugh so hard!), and Jane literally stumbles over the corpse without knowing it.
How can someone UNKNOWINGLY stumble over a corpse?
Well, Jane – Callie’s best friend since childhood – doesn’t see too well. In fact, she doesn’t see at all, as she was born without optic nerves. And, for those who don’t know: Jane earns her living as a phone sex operator and has only recently given up shoplifting. She’s also somehow become engaged to Callie’s brother, Frankie, (Even Callie isn’t sure how THAT happened!),and now Jane thinks she might be pregnant.
Gullah and gorgeous.” Though she and her extended family hail from Surcie Island – a fictional member of the real “Sea Island” chain off the coast of South Carolina, perhaps loosely modeled after Saint Helena Island -- Rizzie owns the Gastric Gullah Grill in St. Mary, Callie’s mainland hometown. It’s there that Rizzie works with her grandmother, Maum, and her 14-year-old brother, Tyrone.
The bad news on the bra-phone is that Maum landed in the hospital with a heart condition and a broken hip. A worried Tyrone is at her side, but Maum is terrified as well as in and out of consciousness. The teen needs his older sister to lean on.
Exit Rizzie, to the hospital, while Jane and Callie wait for the cops.
At this point, I’ll quit the play-by-play and level with you:
As you may have guessed from my lead-in, it’s possible to read most of this book as a light-hearted romp through what some might call the Southern Mystery Chick Lit genre, but there’s a dark streak that runs straight down through the center of this one. And, if you don’t watch out, you just might find it jerking more than a few tears out of your eyes.
Ms. Rizer has done a marvelous job of balancing the dark with the light – in more ways than one. And, I can honestly say that I was laughing out loud by the end of the very first paragraph. But, that humor is offset by the poignant loss of a loved one in the book.
Until now, no “living” character who died within the confines of the series time-frame experienced a natural death. In fact, this is the first character who actually dies on the written page; all the others were killed off-stage and discovered later. Callie’s there for this passing, however.
No slouch at writing, Ms. Rizer took this opportunity to do what I can only call “an excellent job” of comparing Callie’s feelings of personal loss when such a close friend dies, and the feelings she deals with on a daily basis while working on the dead as a funeral parlor cosmetologist.
In fact, the comparison is quite stunning.
Which should come as no surprise
Because long-time readers of the series should have noticed, by now, how much Callie, herself, is a walking dichotomy.
|Okay, this isn't really Callie, |
but she's evidently her understudy.
Not that she disliked her childhood; she clearly enjoyed it. And, she obviously loves her father, even though the guy is pretty overbearing (at least, that’s what I’d call a man who won’t let his thirty-something daughter drink a couple beers in front of him). Callie also puts up with a lot from her brothers, though she seldom has a bad word to say about any of them.
So, perhaps it’s not surprising that she never explains what caused the dissolution of her marriage. All readers know is that Donnie, her ex-husband, did something “that made me divorce him” and that she “didn’t catch him doing the dirty on the dining room table like Stephanie Plum did her husband.”
We know she divorced Donnie and simultaneously quit her job as a kindergarten teacher to move back to her hometown and become a cosmetician at the local funeral home – an action she sums up by quipping that she traded a job working with five-year-olds who wouldn’t take naps or lie still, for one in which she works with dead people who don’t move.
Faithful readers know, of course, from previous books, that Donnie is a surgeon and Callie’s teaching job put him through med school, and that Donnie is an ass (he makes that clear though his own actions). But, on the subject of the catalyst for her divorce – this thing that Donnie did -- she is mute.
This silence, issuing from the normally gregarious Callie, is haunting. It hints at a maturity that’s usually missing from her light-hearted chatty persona, and tells a thoughtful reader that there are deeper waters running through this woman’s silent heart.
Callie is more than she reveals to us on the written page, except in those rare instances when she’s too concerned with other things to keep up the act. Then we catch a fleeting glimpse of a different person – one which Callie is sure to dismiss with some lighthearted comments a few pages later.
Her behavior in a tight spot, for instance, often belies her daily air-head pretension. In this book, when Callie realizes that the thing Jane stumbled over in Mother Hubbard’s is a body with a bullet hole in it, she quickly hands her car keys to Rizzie, directing her to drive her (Callie’s) mustang to the hospital to comfort her brother and grandmother. Then she contacts the police and calls a waiter over to explain the situation – all while trying to calm a near-hysterical Jane. Later, it becomes clear that she’s carefully orchestrated the situation in a manner that permitted Rizzie to take care of her personal emergency, while Jane and Callie remained at the beer tent so that responding police officers could interview the two of them.
She even exerts a thought-out limited influence, in order to keep the crime scene from being disturbed before investigators arrive. These are the actions of a quick, orderly and intelligent mind, yet they’re performed by a woman who seems compelled to pretend that she’s a bubble-head concerned with little more than personal appearance.
This is what makes me suspect Callie’s hiding something from us, for some reason. I can’t help thinking that this hidden reason deals in some way with that thing Donnie did. Whether or not it’s a direct cause and effect relationship, it seems apparent that there’s some relation between her break with Donnie and the emotional insecurity that drives her to wear an inflatable bra and act in childish ways.
Or, perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps, as she claims, Callie’s just trying to make her outside resemble the maturity within, but is stymied by a body that looks as if it belongs to a girl just past puberty. Maybe she’s one of those unfortunate people who suddenly seem to physically jump in age from 16 to 47 almost overnight – though the change is often tacked up to hard living and loneliness, by the person’s peers.
But, we readers (or, at least, I) don’t want to see this happen to Callie. Instead, we want her to meet a man who will tell her – to borrow a phrase from Bridget Jones's Diary – “I like you … just as you are,” while unsnapping that silly bra and sliding her out of those padded panties for the last time.
Not that Callie has to be “rescued” by a man. We just want to see her snap out of it. This is part of the series allure: I want Callie to realize she doesn’t need to pretend to be somebody she’s not – that she’s a smart, industrious, and pretty terrific young woman. And, if her dad and brothers can’t handle that fact, it’s not her problem. They’re the ones who need to find a way to deal with it.
I can’t help thinking that when Callie realizes this, she’ll finally be the full-grown woman she’s striving to become – both inside and out. Beating my hands on my thighs while I read the books, wanting to tell her that’s the answer, wanting to help her quit this whipsaw effect between adolescence and adulthood, that’s what drives me crazy about the Callie character.
Yet, in some strange way, this personal fallible is also what brings Callie’s character to life.
And, if I’m fully honest: It’s also what makes me love her.
Not that there isn't a satisfying mystery here …
… all I’s dotted and T’s crossed by the end of the book. Rizer proves her mettle by presenting us with such a gripping story of personal loss, as a loved one fades slowly away, yet she never lets this overpower or derail the mystery. A difficult feat, but one she handles with a hand so deft I sometimes found myself laughing through misty eyes, as I tried to weigh the suspects:
Jetendre “J.T.” Patel: He’s the Mother Hubbard concession owner, who was born in India and immigrated as a child with his parents. He met Callie after she discovered the corpse, but it’s her body he’s thinking of. Or, is it?
Nila and Nina: Identical twin spinsters, one of whom has finally succumbed to old age. The survivor wants to be sure she and her dead sister are coifed and dressed identically for the viewing and funeral—complete with a costume change between the two events.
When a mysterious man arrives, claiming to have been an old flame of the dead woman, but begins dating the living one, Callie’s suspicions are raised, particularly after she learns that the funeral director from the twins’ hometown wants to know why the dead sister is being buried by an out-of-town firm.
As the book progresses, with no visible ties between the murder victims, another question looms large: Who defaced caskets at the mortuary where Callie works, keeps smoking cigarettes out front of Callie’s place late at night, and riles her normally placid dog, Big Boy, until the angry Great Dane lights out after the culprit only to return with his tail between his legs?
When a second murder victim turns up, the evidence strongly points at Rizzie’s brother, Tyrone. And, while Callie’s friend, Sheriff Wayne Harmon, wants to give the teenager a break, the local lawman’s sympathy is checked by concerns that it seems the boy has fallen in with the wrong gang – and by the fact that the boy, who’s a crack shot, claims to have thrown away his hunting rifle, which is the same caliber as the murder weapon.
But, if Tyrone is the perp, why was the family van torched in the hospital parking lot?
Callie fans needn't fear: Their favorite inflatable-bra detective is on the case!
|Fran Rizer (center) at a reading with "Callie" and "Jane"|
See you in two weeks!